NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Meth Overdose Deaths Surge

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Meth overdose deaths nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019.

Overdose deaths involving methamphetamine nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019 among people ages 18-64 in the U.S., according to a NIDA study published in JAMA Psychiatry

However, the number of meth users during this time did not increase as steeply. The new study suggests higher-risk patterns of methamphetamine use may be contributing to the rise in overdose deaths. 

In 2020, more than 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, marking the largest 1-year increase in overdose deaths ever recorded, according to provisional CDC data. This increase has largely been driven by rising overdoses involving synthetic opioids, primarily the highly potent fentanyl. However, questions remain on how trends in methamphetamine use—which is becoming more dangerous due to contamination with fentanyl, multiple substance use and regular use—contribute to greater risk for overdose deaths.

The study authors analyzed data on overdose deaths involving psychostimulants other than cocaine from cause-of-death files in the National Vital Statistics System from 2015 to 2019. They also assessed the methamphetamine use patterns of U.S. adults ages 18 to 64—the age group at highest risk of substance use and overdose deaths—from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

The researchers found that from 2015 to 2019 the number of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants other than cocaine (largely methamphetamine), rose from 5,526 to 15,489, a 180 percent increase. However, methamphetamine use only increased by 43 percent over the same period. 

In addition, the data show steep rises in frequent meth use between 2015 and 2019, as well as use of meth and cocaine together during this period.

The populations with methamphetamine use disorder (MUD) have also become more diverse. Historically, MUD has been most prevalent among middle-age White people, but this analysis found American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest prevalence. The researchers also found a 10-fold increase in MUD without injection among Black people, a much steeper increase than among other racial and ethnic groups.

Yet another troubling trend: MUD quadrupled in young adults ages 18 to 23, of particular concern, as this is a period of continued brain development for young adults, whose drug use could have long-lasting consequences.

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